The Oz Trial

Before the law, there stands a guard.

A man comes from the country, begging admittance to the law.

But the guard cannot admit him. May he hope to enter at a later time? “That is possible,” says the guard.

The man tries to peer through the entrance. He’d been taught that the law was to be accessible to every man. “Do not attempt to enter without my permission”, says the guard. “I am very powerful. Yet I am the least of all the guards. From hall to hall, door after door, each guard is more powerful than the last.”

By the guard’s permission, the man sits by the side of the door, and there he waits. For years, he waits. Everything he has, he gives away in the hope of bribing the guard, who never fails to say to him “I take what you give me only so that you will not feel that you left something undone.”

Keeping his watch during the long years, the man has come to know even the fleas on the guard’s fur collar. Growing childish in old age, he begs the fleas to persuade the guard to change his mind and allow him to enter. His sight has dimmed, but in the darkness he perceives a radiance streaming immortally from the door of the law.

And now, before he dies, all he’s experienced condenses into one question, a question he’s never asked. He beckons the guard. Says the guard, “You are insatiable! What is it now?” Says the man, “Every man strives to attain the law. How is it then that in all these years, no one else has ever come here, seeking admittance?”

His hearing has failed, so the guard yells into his ear. “Nobody else but you could ever have obtained admittance. No one else could enter this door! This door was intended only for you! And now, I’m going to close it.”

This tale is told during the story called “The Trial”. It’s been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream… a nightmare.

Possibly my slightly strange combining of story and image here was suggested by AFTER HOURS, in which both THE TRIAL and THE WIZARD OF OZ are explicitly referenced, suggesting that screenwriter Joseph Minion (and whatever became of him?) should perhaps use as his pseudonym the catchy “L. Frank Kafka.”

(I’m not yet back online, but I had this post ready to go. See you soon!)


16 Responses to “The Oz Trial”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Whatever became of Joseph Minion? Well, he wrote AFTER HOURS – a nasty and heartless film, which never recovers from the callous way in which it disposes of poor Rosanna Arquette, the one character who’s even remotely sympathetic or engaging.

    On the basis of that film, total career oblivion is what he deserves!

  2. The intro for the Welles’ film was done by Aleksandr Alexieff and his wife Claire Parker. They did it by using pin-screen animation.

    Great use of film stills…The Wizard of Oz does have a slightly Kafkaesque quality. It’s presented as a dream that often veers into a nightmare. After Hours has the same ending as The Wizard of Oz it returns to ordinary humdrum reality which he hates whereas in The Trial the nightmare consumes Josef K. After Hours reminds me more of Hitchcock or Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating(which is Hitchcockian too).

  3. I can’t fathom what you’re talking about Mr. Wingrove. <i.After Hour is one of the dizzyig high points of Rosanna Arquette’s career — which is far from over. Here his IMBD listing. As you can see his credits include Vampire’s Kiss — Nichaolas Cage’s ONLY good film.

    Meanwhile. . . Kim Novak is 77 today.

  4. Happy Birthday to Kim!

    Initially I saw Roseanna Arquette only in the unflattering roles she gets typecast in in mainstream films. Her two films with Scorsese however are incredible performances. That said, I can understand where David W. is coming from regarding her sudden disappearance since she is such a strong presence in the film. After Hours is a film about male anxiety and hysteria. It takes place in a hyper poetic urban landscape. It’s not about sympathetic characters at all. It’s about the impossibility of two people, any two people to have an interaction at any meaningful level beyond a few minutes.

  5. Whoa, whoa, whoa, Duke Grove of Wings, AFTER HOURS is not not about the heart, fully or less-ly. The is a film about the comedy of yuppy anxiety in post-white-flight NYC. It about someone whose M.O., whose genetic make-up, is basically designed to PREVENT HIM FROM EXPERIENCING New York, even though at this time in the 80’s, he is the typical embodiment of a New Yorker. This paradox, encountering it head on, is the basis for the paranoid fantasy that ensues, and it’s a totally brilliant way to write a film. As for the Rosanna Arquette death, it’s just and Oedipal metaphor: He comes to this neighborhood only for a possible shtup, but it turns out that she’s not just some kitsch figurine…Long and short, Minion’s got to have another screenplay, and we should form a mob and go steal it from him!

  6. And connecting After Hours to The Wizard of Oz even further is Rosanna Arquette’s scene in the diner where she tells Griffin Dunne about her ex-husband who when he reached orgasm would cry out “Surrender Dorothy!”

  7. Marty adores Roseanna

  8. david wingrove Says:

    Perhaps I’m too sentimental about Rosanna Arquette. She truly was the Audrey Hepburn of my 80s generation – the dream princess that every straight girl (and gay boy) secretly wanted to be.

    We had watched Rosanna in rapt adoration through BABY IT’S YOU and DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, and it really did hurt to see her killed off so callously by Scorsese and co.

    Meanwhile, happy birthday Kim Novak! OK, she got killed of twice in VERTIGO…but still walked away with the movie.

  9. Mike Hodges said he had great difficulty casting the lead in Black Rainbow — all the hot actresses were afraid of actually having to carry a film. Only Rosanna had the nerve to take it on. On this basis, he declaires that when actresses complain that there are no good parts for women, it’s a crock. The women who have the power to get films greenlit go for derivative romcoms and similar pablum.

    After Hours was accused of misogyny at the time, but as it is clearly about male anxiety, that never made sense to me. Scorsese said Lang was his big influence on this one, I’m guessing The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street.

  10. There’s something about this dark world where nightmare intersects with mundane reality that brings me out in a cold sweat. I remember watching After Hours days before my first visit to New York (as a young, lone Griffin Dunne-aged man, I even met a slightly unhinged woman who had a physical resemblance to Linda Fiorentino) and it’s had a resonance for me ever since.

    Jacob’s Ladder is another film that triggered this; Philip Dick and Kafka is a potent combination.

  11. Swedenborg might be a useful reference too, and he’s underused in films — I can only think of Jacob’s Ladder and Von Trier’s The Kingdom.

    I related to Griffin Dunne purely due to the difficulty of getting a taxi after midnight in Edinburgh. For some reason I never thought of phoning for one, all through the eighties I would up walking home.

  12. I have seen yet a third Joseph Minion film – the extremely odd (yet somehow forgettable) MOTORAMA, where a small boy steals a car and drives across the USA in search of a series of cigarette cards spelling out the film’s title, the complete set of which would enable him to win – I don’t recall, but something. He loses an eye along the way, which is a bit of a first in American cinema. Nothing else of any great import happens. The cast is a Who’s Who of psychotronic cinema from Woronov to Tyrell to Dick Miller to Drew Barrymore, though, which makes me think I should try to re-view it sometime. Not in any great hurry, though.

    Vampire’s Kiss, however, seems to me to have been quite the influence on American Psycho…

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